Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Full Belly Project : "The best machinery is simple machinery."

Well, it looks like I have found another one of my favorite type of stories. And this is an organization - as evidenced by its name - that seems to have been started by a "no-nonsense" straightforward type of person.

The name of the organization is: The Full Belly Project and it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization "dedicated to empowering people in developing countries with the ability to achieve independent and sustainable economies by facilitating the design and distribution of appropriate technologies."

The Full Belly Project says that it is working to end poverty and famine throughout the world. Their founder, Jock Brandis, has invented what they state is a "revolutionary" nut sheller. This nut sheller and a hand operated soy milk maker that the organization has also developed are two examples of appropriate technology that they say will shape a sustainable future for poor rural communities in Africa and throughout the world. The Project teaches people how to build these hand-operated machines on the spot with common materials.

The vision of the Full Belly Project is "that the residents of rural communities in developing countries live lives of abundance - that they awake each morning to days of economic possibility and go to sleep each night with bellies that are full."

Their mission is "to relieve hunger by taking advantage of the highly nutritious properties of peanuts through appropriate agricultural technology."

And they intend to accomplish their mission and fulfill their vision by effecting the international distribution of unique labor saving devices. And where it is necessary, they will provide the parts to construct such devices that will relieve hunger, improve nutrition, and provide economic opportunities to impoverished rural areas, especially for women.

At the web site where they discuss their history, the Full Belly Project gives credit to George Washington Carver as being a type of "spiritual forefather" of the project. Carver was the great inventor to also taught at Tuskeegee Institute in Tuskeegee, Alabama. As an inventor, Carver developed 325 products from peanuts, 108 applications for sweet potatoes, and 75 products derived from pecans. His work in developing industrial applications from agricultural products derived 118 products, including a rubber substitute and over 500 dyes and pigments, from 28 different plants. He was responsible for the invention in 1927 of a process for producing paints and stains from soybeans, for which he holds three separate United States patents. The Full Belly Project states that it got these facts on George Washington Carver from a "Princeton.edu" site.

Following in the spirit of George Washington Carver, is Jock Brandis, the founder of the Full Belly Project. He is described by the organization's web site as a film technician, humanitarian, and inventor, gifted with extraordinary insight. (It must be nice when your staff love you.) Anyway, Jock was in Africa visiting a friend who was a Peace Corps volunteer when he discovered that cotton was being grown in traditionally food-bearing fields in a village in southern Mali. Jock decided to take action, and the Full Belly Project was born. Jock began developing a peanut-husking machine that would enable villagers to grow and harvest peanuts in place of cotton. That machine is now know as the peanut sheller and has become the "central focus" of the Full Belly Project. It is hoped that this machine will help turn the tide in the fight against famine and poverty in certain parts of the world.

The Full Belly Project is currently working to match donors in affluent countries, with villages in need in developing countries. On March 19th 2005 approximately $10,000 was raised at a benefit in Wilmington, North Carolina. (It took me a while to realize that this event did not take place in Wilmington, Delaware.) During this event the sponsorships of two villages were auctioned. The result of this is that peanut shellers are being given to both of the villages by the sponsors.

Jock has had some other help with this project as well. He is a member of The Coastal Carolinas Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and they are acknowledged as being instrumental in the formation of the Full Belly Project.

Jay Tervo, the current president of the Full Belly Project and also a member of the Wilmington West Rotary Club, challenged all the Rotary clubs in Uganda to raise $500 each for shellers and has similarly plans to ask Rotary clubs in his local area to match every $500 raised by Ugandan clubs with $1,000.

The Full Belly Project is continuing to improve the design of the peanut sheller so as to increase its portability and efficiency, and also to reduce the cost of its production and distribution. They are also looking into ways of making cooking fuel out of peanut shells. Much like the sugar cane fuel developed for Haiti by D-Lab , such a peanut shell fuel will help stop deforestation and desertification, which is a significant problem in the Sahel and many other parts of Africa. (Perhaps the Full Belly Project should contact the folks at D-Lab at M.I.T. since they are both working on drip irrigation techniques and solar energy for crop cultivation in developing countries.)

The Full Belly Project says that its material of choice for the peanut sheller parts is concrete. This is because concrete is inexpensive and has a very long service life. Additionally, many people know how to work with it even in rural villages in developing countries. There is no patent on the sheller, so it is open for all to make, and The Full Belly Project also offers the plans and/or parts for the construction of its hand operated devices at low or no cost.

In addition to Africa, there is also an initiative taking place in The Philippines. A sheller has been taken to the Province of Bauang on Lauzon Island. And if the machine can be used successfully there, a set of molds will be sent to produce the machine there.

Additionally, Canadian Feed the Children has acquired six machines to be sent to their projects in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana. And in Zambia, under another initiative, a set of molds and metal for five machines are being sent to a project in Chipota, near the Malawi border. And there other projects in the works as well.

The Full Belly Project also has a Blog where they intend to keep people appraised of what they are doing. And their Blog can be found at: Full Belly Blog .

One final note, before I close, the Full Belly Project utilizes volunteers and has an established arrangement with the University of North Carolina for interns to earn credit for working with them. (You know, with Carolina For Kibera and MedWorld out of Chapel Hill, I still haven't heard anything from Charlottesville. - but that's a story for another day.)


The Full Belly Project is doing great stuff. There is a lot more to read about at their web site, so up it up (and their Blog as well) and support them in whatever way you can. They are doing some important things. - And dare I say it: "It's not just peanuts."

The Full Belly Project

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